Wick Communications

Eyes on your own paper

In Writing techniques on October 20, 2011 at 3:24 pm

This is so obvious that I run the risk of insulting you by even bringing it up. Please make sure the stuff under your byline is your own.

There have always been rogue reporters who have “borrowed” story ideas, ledes, quips, even entire pieces from others — all without attribution. That was bad enough. But lately there has been quite a bit of back and forth in the industry press about entire news organizations that have made such practices habit in their cubicles.

The Daily Mail, in the United Kingdom, has become so notorious for stealing stories that the Poynter folks have dubbed the practice “pulling a Daily Mail.” Even more recently, journalists have complained that a handful of the many Examiner.com contributors have been cribbing a bit too liberally. There was even a Twitter hashtag, #examinerplagierism. Ouch.

Borrowing journalism (to be charitable) has never been easier. A few keystrokes and you have “produced” a story your editor will grin over. It’s possible for such things to be a simple mistake. You might be working on a story about, say, tractor-trailer crashes on the open highway and run a Google search. You might see a story in the Columbus Dispatch, reporting on the rising frequency of such crashes. You might cut and paste a part of that story into a Word document, planning it as background, maybe something you will ask a source about later. If you aren’t careful, that chunk of someone else’s work becomes a part of your story and, if it does, you have just committed a journalistic sin. …

And know this: Plagiarism refers to original ideas as well as words. You can’t simply change a few words from an original work and call yourself safe. It doesn’t work that way. Always cite the source when you use someone else’s research, original thought or writing.

There are more dubious “journalistic” enterprises on the Web than I can name. They trade on the integrity we have built over centuries, mimicking our online look and feel. They want to sell what we have produced. Heck, a lot of Web entrepreneurs don’t even see anything wrong with a business model like that.

But we do. Be careful. You don’t want to see your name attached to a snarky hashtag on Twitter.

Clay

 

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